Monday, 11 November 2019

The Black Book, DNA, & the O'Malley's of Limerick

I was recently in Limerick for a Medieval History Conference that formed part of St Martin's Fair. It was a hugely enjoyable event and was held in different locations on King's Island, including St Munchin's Church, St Mary's Cathedral, King John's Castle, the Absolute Hotel and the Curraghgour Boat Club. I also had the privilege of meeting up with several Limerick O'Malley's and we may have had a pint or two!

Warmly wrapped up at St John's Castle

St Martin's Fair was established by King John in 1204 and ran for 7 days starting from the vigil of St Martin (which is today, 11th Nov). The conference was sponsored by the Thomond Archaeological & Historical Society and highlighted how The Black Book of Limerick (one of Limerick's earliest medieval manuscripts) can inform us about life and society at a time when the Normans were establishing a firm foothold in the city, and elbowing out the Gaelic chiefs and the Viking settlers.

The panoramic view from St John's Castle of the Shannon at sunset

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation on building Viking ship replicas. This took place at the Curraghgour Boat Club where the Bjørkedal brothers (Dag Inge, Ottar, & Jakob) together with Jørn Olav Løset talked about how they constructed one of the biggest Viking ship replicas built to date - the Myklebus ship. This measures 30 metres long by 6.5 meters wide. It was a fascinating presentation with photos and videos that gave a unique insight into Viking shipbuilding.

The replica of the Myklebus ship (built by the Bjørkedal brothers)

The four shipbuilders from Norway present Cathy Swift (Conference Organiser) with
a souvenir bailing tool inscribed with their names

The Black Book was very helpful in establishing that there was a distinct and well-established clan of the O'Malley's in Limerick by the 1100s. This has been discussed at length in a previous blog post. I gave a 30-minute presentation at the conference that reviewed the various theories as to how the O'Malley's got to Limerick, what the Black Book says about the O'Malley's, and how DNA has allowed us to rule-out most theories and settle on a main contender. The YouTube video of my presentation is below and can also be found on YouTube here.

(Click to play)

I also produced a handy little chart summarising how all the O'Malley's in the project is related to each other. The Most Recent Common Ancestor of all the various O'Malley groups was born about 48,000 years ago! This chart is worthy of a blog post all on it's own and that should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

How all the O'Malley groups are related to each other
(click to enlarge)

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2019

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Where did the Limerick O'Malley's come from?

"... it's origin and destruction lost in the night of the unrecorded past ..."
From Westropp's Antiquities of Limerick (page 1)

For TJ Westropp, famous antiquarian, much of Ireland's ancient past was "lost in the night" but the 21st century has seen the birth of genetic genealogy, and because of this new technology, some of these lost secrets are beginning to emerge as shadowy figures, harbingers of a new dawn.

There is a strong contingent of Limerick O'Malley's in Group 2 of the O'Malley DNA Project. In a previous post, we discussed how they share a common ancestor with Brian Boru, as evidenced by their testing positive for the SNP marker L226.

But O'Malley is a surname most often associated with Mayo, where the exploits of Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen, have captured the imagination of many generations. However we know from the pedigrees of the Group 2 members of the O'Malley DNA Project that the O'Malley surname has been present in Limerick since at least the late 1700s and probably much earlier than this. So the question that has intrigued many generations of Limerick O'Malley's is: how did it get there? One assumption is that at some stage the O'Malley's from Mayo made the trip down to Limerick and established a branch of the family there. But is this in fact the case? or is there some other explanation for the presence of the O'Malley surname in Limerick?

At the recent Clan Rally (21-23 June 2019), I had the pleasure of chatting with a whole host of people, many of whom were kind enough to impart to me local knowledge and stories about the Limerick O'Malley's and their possible origins. Several theories emerged from these conversations, including the ones below.

The Origins of the O'Malley Name in Limerick

Theory 1 (1570s)
Grace O'Malley was imprisoned in Limerick gaol (in King John's Castle?) for about 18 months in 1577-1578. Her kinsmen would have camped outside the castle (or the town) and would have supplied her with food. This was the custom. Prisoners were not fed by "the authorities" but by their families. So some fine strapping O'Malley lad may have fallen in love with an equally strapping young Limerick gal and the two got married and started a dynasty. These things happen. Oh the price of young love!

Theory 2 (1602)
Some Mayo O'Malley's may have been part of the great retreat of O'Sullivan Beare. After the English forces routed the Spanish and Irish forces at the Battle of Kinsale (Dec 1601), Donal O'Sullvan, chief of the O'Sullivan clan of the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, attempted to escape north to Leitrim with 1000 followers (Jan 1602), hoping to gain sanctuary with the O'Rourke's of Breffni. It took them 14 days to travel the 350 kilometres (220 miles). Only 35 people completed the journey. They were constantly attacked along the way by both English and Irish forces. Many of the party were killed or died of sickness. Others were left behind. Some O'Malley soldiers may have been among them and this might account for the O'Malley presence in Limerick.

Theory 3 (pre-1500s?)
There are rumours that one of the Mayo O'Malley's was made a bishop and was sent to Limerick to cater for the flock there. When he saw the fine fertile fields of the Limerick hinterland, he reported home and sent for his Mayo relations to come settle there. Thus the bishop imported an O'Malley flock.

Theory 4 (pre-1500s?)
The Mayo O'Malley's were a well-accomplished seafaring people. They were powerful by land and sea (Terra Marique Potens - the clan motto). It is very probable that O'Malley merchants & traders from Mayo made a regular sea journey down the coast to trade with Limerick. One of the O'Malley sailors may have caught the eye of a Limerick lass and that was it - snared forever.

Theory 5 (pre-1000 AD)
In his 1923 surname dictionary, the Rev Patrick Woulfe suggests that the Limerick O'Malley's were a separate sept to the Mayo O'Malley's. He states that O'Malley was the name of "a Thomond family who were chiefs of Tuath Luimnigh, a district in the neighbourhood of the city of Limerick." [1] This is not mentioned by MacLysaght in any of his books or by O'Hart in his Pedigrees. [2,3] The problem with these old Surname Dictionaries is that they are not specifically referenced so we cannot be sure from where they get their information.

And that leaves us with the burning question: which origins theory is correct? Are the Limerick O'Malley's originally from Mayo? or are they a separate clan? or are there several origins for the Limerick O'Malley's?

And there may be many other theories to add to the above. If you have one, why not post it in the Comments section below. Who knows - you could be right!

So let's look at the evidence and see which theory can be given most credence. There are hyperlinks within the text to relevant websites and records, and particular reference is made to specific scholarly works. A brief summary of the authors of these works and who they were can be found in the footnote section. [4]

O'Malley individual's in documentary records

As mentioned above, several members of Group 2 trace their O'Malley ancestral line back into the late 1700s. But there is documentary evidence that the O'Malley name has been in Limerick for many centuries before that.

On RootsIreland, the earliest Limerick birth record is for an Alice Maly in 1746. Her parents were Tim Maly & Joana Kelly. And the earliest Limerick marriage record is for a Mary Maley who married Alexander Frazier in 1743. But it is the Limerick death records that take us back into the 1600s - Eleanor Maley, daughter of Jonathan, died in 1697.

Our former Clan Chief, Brendan O'Malley, found mention of a James O'Mealy as one of the subscribers of Ferrar's The History of Limerick (1787). And although it recounts the history of Limerick from earliest times, there is no mention of any other O'Malley within the book. [5]

James O'Mealy was one of the many subscribers to Ferrar's 1787 History of Limerick (page vi)

There are quite a few land deeds involving O'Malley's that date back to the early 1700s and two of them are for Limerick O'Malley's:
  • Thomas Maly, 1708
  • Charles Maley, 1759

There are no O'Malley's in the 1641 Depositions and no Limerick O'Malley's in the 1654-56 Civil & Down SurveysPender's Census of 1659, or in the Landed Estates database.

The Tudor Fiants were administrative documents used in the process of conveying a title, office, right or pardon. These cover the period from 1521 (Henry VIII) to 1603 (Elizabeth I) and are available online. They deserve a whole separate blog post of their own as there are many O'Malley's who feature in these fiants during this time period. Brian Hodkinson (former Curator, Limerick Museum) compiled an index (in 2015) to any Fiants relevant to Limerick but there are no O'Malley's (or variants) in this list, which I find somewhat surprising. One might expect to have some O'Malley's feature in this list if they had a significant presence in Limerick, and especially if they were "Irish papists". Therefore most of these Fiants must relate to Mayo O'Malley's. As an example, you can read here the fiant for the pardon of Grace O'Malley (Mayo's Pirate Queen). Below is an abstract of O'Malley's from Brian's index:
  • Male, Walter fitz Rich., pardon, 6577
  • Malie, Rich., pardon, 6777
  • Malie, Tho., pardon, 6772
  • Mally - Maly, Grana ny (Granuaile), pardon, 5173sons of 5948
  • Mallyny, 6576
  • Maly, Grany ny (see Mally), 5173
  • Maly, Maurice, 6034
  • Malye, Tho., pardon, 2424 [Kilkenny]
  • Omailie, Tho., pardon, 3928
  • O'Mally, Dermod, pardon, 4844; surrender of his lands, 5948

Brian Hodkinson has also built a list of people in medieval Limerick (2009, last updated 2016) and among them are three O'Malley's - a Canon, a Cottager, and a Beneficiary. From this it can be seen that the O'Malley's had a presence in Limerick in the 1200s and 1300s, well before the reign of Grace O'Malley.

From Brian Hodkinson's List of People in Medieval Limerick.
BBL refers to the Black Book of Limerick which we will discuss further below;
AM is Arthur Manuscript (McLysaght & Ainsworth); and GR is the Gormanston Register.

A Cistercian Monastery was founded in Monasteranenagh in 1148 by Turlough O'Brien (St. Mary de Magio). In 1261, the Abbot was a Thomas O'Malley (see Begley, p.343) [6]

So, from a variety of documentary sources, we can identify specific O'Malley individuals going back to Limerick in the 13th century.

Furthermore, it is clear from all of these records that there were many spelling variations of the O'Malley name and these become even more varied as we go back in time and encounter the Gaelic versions of the name (as opposed to the anglicised versions). It would appear that the surname was more usually pronounced "o-male-ee" rather than the more modern pronunciation "o-mal-ee". Also, the possessive form (Ui Mhaille) would have been pronounced "ee-wally" or "ee-waily" in Irish, an important consideration when we visit the anglicised placenames below.

The O'Malley "Clan" of Limerick

Interest in Irish antiquities captured the imagination of Victorian scholars and over the past two hundred years, several detailed analyses of ancient texts relevant to the O'Malley presence in Limerick have been published. The authors include O'Donovan, Begley, Lenihan, Westropp & MacCaffrey. [4]

In a previous blog post, we highlighted the passage below from Begley's The Diocese of Limerick: Ancient and Medieval. [6] This refers to a topographical poem written by O'Heerin (which would have been before 1420, the year he died) and translated by O'Donovan (and published in his Topographical Poems in 1862). [7] From this we can assume that there was a distinct and noteworthy O'Malley "clan" in Limerick in the 1300s. From the Begley extract (see below), they appear to have shared lordship of a territory called Tuath Luimnigh which was situated on one side of the River Shannon (Sionain), in and around the civil parish of Knocknagaul.

Begley quotes O'Heerin's poem from around 1400

From O'Heerin's poem and Begley's comments on it, several questions arise:
  1. Is there a genetic connection between the Kealy's and the O'Malley's? are they from "the same stock"? what can we learn about them from surname dictionaries and other sources?
  2. What is meant by "Beautiful ravens"? Can anything be deduced or speculated from this description? What does the Raven symbolise?
  3. What is meant by "the two inbhers"? This latter question is answered below. The others will have to wait for another day.
An inbher is an estuary or river mouth - several rivers drain into the Shannon so theoretically the "two inbhers" could refer to the confluence of one of the tributaries of the Shannon that opens up into the Shannon estuary itself, somewhere around Limerick. The contenders for this second inbher include the Maigue, the Deel and the Feale on the left bank of the Shannon (going downstream) or the Bunratty and Fergus on the right bank. Of these, the closest to Limerick city are the Bunratty on the northern right bank (in county Clare) and the Maigue on the southern left bank (in county Limerick). Begley mentions Knocknagaul, a civil parish to the south of the river, so it seems more likely that the "two inbhers" were the Shannon and the Maigue.

This is confirmed in Westropp's Antiquities[8] On page 7, he describes how the city of Limerick derives its name from the Tuath Luimnigh, and they in turn from the word Luimneach, "the estuary of the Shannon". This would suggest that the area known as the Luimneach (and hence Tuath Luimnigh) would have extended no further than Limerick city.

Westropp's Antiquities (p7) 

Furthermore, on page 5, he states "Tuath Luimnigh lay along the Luimneach estuary as far as the Maigue". [8] So, as anticipated, the two inbhers referred to by O'Heerin around 1400 were the respective estuaries of the Shannon and the Maigue.

Westropp also mentions the Tuath Luimneach in his Ancient Castles, confirming that their territory lay along the upper part of the Barony of Pubblebrian and extended across the parishes of Kilkeedy, Mungret and Knocknegall, which interestingly he gives the alternative name of Crewmalley. [9] Furthermore, in this instance, Crewmalley is synonymous with the civil parish of Knocknagall whereas (as we shall see below) in a later part of his book (p151), Westropp considers Crewally as an alternative name for the townland of Ballyclogh (a townland of 363 acres within the civil parish of Knocknagall). Either way, Westropp confines the O'Malley territory to only part of the total lands of Tuath Luimnigh. Presumably the Kealy's, O'Gunning's and perhaps additional tribes held sway over the other parts of Tuath Luimnigh.

Westropp's Ancient Castles (p144)

Today, the townland of Ballyclogh (363 acres) still exists and is situated in the Civil Parish of Knocknagaul (2173 acres), in the Barony of Pubblebrien (31,346 acres), in the County of Limerick. Ballyclogh is also known by several variant names including Ballycloghy or Ballynaclogh (as is the local river) and translates as the town of the stone. There are many townlands in Ireland with this name, including three in county Limerick alone. Knocknagall translates as the hill of the standing stones; and Pubblebrien translates as the people of Brian, indicating that the dominant family in this area was the O'Brien family. Note that the Barony of Pubblebrien is bounded by the Shannon estuary on the north and the Maigue estuary on the west ("the two inbhers" of O'Heerin's poem that mark the territory of the Tuath Luimnigh).

Ballyclogh townland (orange border) in the Civil Parish of Knocknagaul (yellow border)
in the Barony of Pubblebrien (blue border).

In his Antiquities (p5), Westropp again refers to "the Ui Mhaille of Crewymalley or Knocknegall" whom he describes as one of several "petty tribes ... rather families than septs". [8]

One gets the impression from the description above that the county of Limerick presented a very fragmented tribal landscape. But when? What era are we talking of here? Is it the 1500s prior to the end of the Gaelic Clans? or is it the11th or 12th Century after the introductions of surnames? Either way, the various tribes seem to have had diverse ancestral origins and one wonders if this would be reflected in the DNA of their descendants today.

Let us also note the statement above that "a colony of the Burke's gave their name to Clanwilliam". The Burke's were a prominent Mayo family so if "a colony" settled in northern Limerick they may have brought some O'Malley's with them. So this could be Theory No. 6 - the O'Malley's arrived in Limerick with the Burke's. [10]

However, as far as Tuath Luimnigh is concerned, it would appear that the O'Malley's were sharing overlordship of this particular territory with the O'Gunning's and the Kealy's and possibly several other "petty tribes". And one wonders if there was a genetic connection between these close geographic neighbours. A review of the nearest genetic neighbours to the Limerick O'Malley's of Group 2 might reveal some clues. A topic for a subsequent article perhaps.

The History of the Crewymalley

One of the key source documents referenced by many of the sources above (Begley, Westropp, Hodkinson) is the Black Book of Limerick. This is a 76-page manuscript written on vellum and parchment which is really a compilation of various medieval documents including grants, an enquiry into property held by the church, and ecclesiastical tax returns. These documents date from 1194 to the 1420s, with a few later additions from the early 1600s. Thus we are dealing with a period in history when the Viking and Native Irish people of Limerick were contending with the advancing Anglo-Norman influence.

Conference celebrating and exploring the Black Book of Limerick is planned for 28-31 October 2019 (sponsored by the Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society) and I will be giving a short talk on the DNA of the Limerick O'Malley's.

dissertation on the Black Book was published as a book in 1907 by James MacCaffrey (Prof. of Eclesiastical History, Maynooth College). [11] MacCaffrey's book is divided into an introductory portion consisting of 14 chapters written in English, followed by the main body of the text - a transcription of the Black Book itself, which is in Latin (with no English translation). The introductory portion is numbered with Roman numerals (e.g. vii) whilst the Latin transcription section is numbered with arabic numerals (e.g. 798).

A more comprehensive placename index and people index for MacCaffrey's book was compiled by Brian Hodkinson (former Curator, Limerick Museum) some time around 2009. These are accessible from the Research Aids section of the website.

There are several entries of possible O'Malley relevance within the index to MacCaffrey's book and in Hodkinson's updated indices. However, there is a lack of correlation between the different items and the lack of an English translation of the original Latin entries is a major stumbling block to proper assessment.

Hodkinson's expanded people index includes only a single relevant reference to "Omalli, canon p142". However, the placename index (and its footnotes) includes quite a few references of potential relevance to the Limerick O'Malley's including the following:
Ballyclogh15 (Crewagh Omaylly, Crewcagh, Crewmalla, Crewymaille; OS 13) 109, 110,156
15 See Westropp castles for 1336 Crewymailly and 1615 Balliniclogh alias Crewe Iwally. See Omayl note
Crenathomayll, 89, 99
Formailiart (Formiliart, Formiliard), 27, 29, 116, 121
Imailin63, 34
63 See note on Omayl
Omayl, in Mungret 103, 57, 103, 126
103 Same as Imailin? See also Ballyclogh footnote. I suspect that this originally covered a wide area but the name is preserved in the alternative name for Ballyclogh. At 10 carucates it is a large area, nominally 1,200 acres, and I think it covered parts of Caheravally and Knocknagaul parishes, neither of which contains a townland of the same name with the parish church.

I visited The National Archives at Kew, London and consulted MacCaffrey's book which is on the general shelves. The original index includes some additional items possibly relevant to the O'Malley's including the ones below. I photographed all the relevant pages.
  • Crenathomayll etc ... 9,89,99,109
  • Desbeg ... 3,38
  • Imalin ... 34
  • Imalidinn ... 27
  • O'Malli, Canon of Limerick ... 116
  • O'Mayll ... 5,8,9,10,57,103,127
  • Valle, Thomas de ... 59

Of particular interest (and perhaps later relevance), are the various phonetic spellings of the Irish version of the O'Malley name. It is spelt with both an O and also with an I which I presume would have been pronounced "ee" similar to the modern Irish spelling of Uí Maille (ee-male-ee).

Below are some relevant extracts from MacCaffrey's dissertation on the Black Book (BBL). [11]

The first mention of the O'Malley land appears to be in 1194 when King Donald (Donal) O'Brien of North Munster granted land to the Bishop of Limerick (and his successors) that incorporated land in Tuath Luimnigh including that of the "Imailin" (which could possibly refer to the O'Malley territory). Below is the transcribed Latin text from the BBL and an English translation. [12]

BBL p34

English translation from Brenan 1840 [12]
Note: St Mary's Cathedral was actually founded in 1111 at the Synod of Rathbreassail. Also, the donation to Brictius took place between 1178-1185 according to Flanagan in "Irish Royal Charters"  (Brian Hodkinson, personal communication)

Several questions spring to mind:
  1. Does "Imailin" refer to the O'Malley land?
  2. Why was this land especially chosen by King Donald?
  3. How much land was involved? How many "carucates" or "librates"?
  4. What effect did it have on the native people on the land? Did they maintain any "holdings"? Did they merely have to pay rent to the church instead of the King? Did it have any effect on their daily lives?

So from the above, we have a land grant from King Donald / Donal to the Bishop of Limerick in 1194. And the land appears to incorporate a large part of Tuath Luimnigh, possibly including the territory of the O'Malley ("Imailin").

Donald died that same year (1194) and the Normans regained control of the city shortly thereafter (1195). Their king, Richard the Lionheart (Richard 1, reign 1189-1199) granted Limerick its first charter in 1197. His brother became King John (reign 1199-1216). Begley reports (p147) that in 1210-1213, the citizens of Limerick received a grant of 40 carucates (ploughlands) of land lying around the city. This included "10 carucates in Omayl (part of Knocknagaul) formerly granted to Edmund, Bishop of Limerick.” (p149). [6] Was this the same land granted by King Donald to the Bishop of Limerick in 1194? If so, was it subsequently confiscated from the Bishop by King John and granted to the citizens instead?

From subsequent items in the Black Book, it appears that 10 librates (equivalent to carucate or ploughland?) were granted (regranted?) to the Bishop of Limerick in 1216. It's like a three-card-trick ... you have to keep your eye on the Queen!!

We can see that in July 1215, King John granted to Edmund, Bishop of Limerick, an annuity of 10 pounds in exchange for the site of the mill and the fishery of Limerick. The following year (July 2016), the King instructed Geoffrey de Mareys (a government official known as a Justiciary) to assign to Edmund "10 librates of land within or without the cantred of Limerick" in lieu of the annuity (see pages cii to ciii). Elsewhere these lands are referred to as carucates or ploughlands. This land included the land of the Omayl. So was this some of the 40 carucates that had initially been granted by King Donald to the Bishop, confiscated by King John and granted instead to the Citizens, and subsequently regranted (in part) to the Bishop?

BBL page cii-ciii

The lands assigned to Bishop Edmund in 1216 are referred to as "the lands of O'Mayl" and belonged to the Citizens of Limerick who were required to yield up their claims to the Bishop (BBL page xliii). [11]

The 40 carucates (ploughlands) granted by King John to the Citizen's of Limerick in 1210-1213 became the Liberties of Limerick (was the word librate corrupted to Liberty?). Of these, 16 were on the north side and 24 on the south side (according to Begley, p147 & p419). Among these were "10 Carucates in Omayl (part of Knocknagaul) formerly granted to Edmund, Bishop of Limerick." [6,12] For reference, Lenihan (p50) describes a carucate as being "140 great acres on average". [13] And a "great acre" was equivalent to "20 English acres" (at least in Tipperary around the 1600s).

So the story seems to go like this:
  • 1194 - King Donald grants land in Tuath Luimneach (40 ploughlands?) to the Bishop of Limerick (and his successors)
  • 1210-1213 - King John takes back (?) the land and regrants it to the Citizens of Limerick
  • 1216 - King John grants (regrants?) 10 ploughlands of Omayl land to the Bishop of Limerick (and his successors)

This interpretation appears to be consistent with Hodkinson's 2007 article on the Liberties of Limerick. [14] He also tackles the subject of where exactly were these "lands of Omayl" - were they confined to the townland of Ballyclogh or did they extend to the rest of the parish of Knocknagaul? He contends that neither is true as there is no evidence that there was Bishop's land in either area based on the Down Survey maps from 400 years later. But 400 years is a long time and a lot could have happened in the interim. Even though there is no Bishop's land identified in Ballyclogh or Knocknagaul in the mid-1600s, is it possible that it was Bishop's land 400 years previously? But Hodkinson might be quite right and the land of Omayl could have been located elsewhere nearby - it is difficult to know, and I am certainly no medieval scholar

In April 1230, these same "lands of Omayl" passed to John de St John (BBL, page civ). Begley reports that he was treasurer of the church of Limerick around 1223 and later became Bishop of Ferns (see p131). [6]

Interestingly, Begley reports that by 1274, the 40 carucates that the citizens "held without the city had been encroached upon by the Irish who took away all the “fruits and uses” of it and they were no longer able to pay the rent, which was £40 per year” (Begley p150). [6] It is not clear if the 10 carucates of Omayl land were included in this 40 carucates or were still in the possession of the church.

Elsewhere in the Black Book, there are additional references to the name O'Mayl, variously written as O'Mayll, Omayl, Omaylly, O'Malli, Imailin, and Imalin.

It also appears in references to placenames such as: Crewagh Omaylly, Crewe Iwally, Crewymailly, Crewymaille, and Crewmalla, all of which may be derived from the Irish word "críoch" meaning territory and thus roughly translates as O'Malley Country. Begley (p133) even has it written as "Creavath O'Moyl (Knocknagaul)". [6]

There is also the placename Crenathomayll but I found no translation of what this might mean. However, it could conceivably be a mistranscription of "Creavath O'Moyl".

Nevertheless, these references clearly indicate that there was "O'Malley land" in Limerick in 1215 and that some of it at least (10 librates / carucates / ploughlands) was granted by King John to the Bishop of Limerick. This land may have been confined to the townland of Ballyclogh, or may have extended into the (entire?) civil parish of Knocknagall, or may have been elsewhere. Nevertheless, the O'Malley name was well-established in Limerick in the early 1200s and had been incorporated into local placenames.

Putting Crewymally on the map

We now jump forward in time by 400 years.

On the older maps of Limerick from the Down Survey (1656-1658, available online here), it appears Ballyclogh fell within the South Liberties of the City of Limerick. This is described in the Table of Contents of the Civil Survey for Limerick (1655, available online here). Thus in 1655 the proprietor of the land in the townland of Ballyneclohy was one John Arthur of Limerick, an "Irish papist". The townland consisted of 66 acres of good land and contained a corn mill, a "tucking mill", 6 thatched cabins, and a stone house. No mention of a castle though. Or any O'Malley's. Where were they? Were they humble tenant farmers?

The 66 acres of Ballyclogh does not square with the 363 acres of the modern townland, suggesting that either the boundary or the unit of acreage has undergone changes over time.

In Westropp's Ancient Castles (page 151) there is mention of the castle at "Crewally or Ballyclogh" in "Knocknagall". [9] Westropp mentions other variations of the name for this castle and the land on which it stood including Imalin, Omaill, Creuagh-Omaill, Crew Ymaille, Crewe Iwally, Ballyniclogh and several others. He bases his observations on a variety of source material including the Black Book of Limerick (B.B.L.).

And again we see the surname Arthur crop up. Thus the land was held by Christopher Arthur in 1615 and John Arthur (his son?) in 1655. The Arthur family was a prominent Anglo-Norman family that was heavily involved in the medieval civic life of Limerick. Two members of this family served as Bishop of Limerick (namely Thomas Arthur 1468-1486 and Richard Arthur 1623-1646) so maybe this is how the Bishop's land ended up being held by the Arthur's?!

Westropp's Ancient Castles (page 151)
Key: C = castle; BBL = Black Book of Limerick; CS = Civil Survey

Interestingly, Westropp's text gives a location for the remains of the Crew Ymaille castle as OSL, 8, p395 and as far as I can make out, the OSI map below indicates where it stood - you can see the words "site of castle" on this OSI map (Ordnance Survey Ireland, 1829-1841). However, the ruins appear to be due east rather than north of Ballyclogh House. This map is available from the website of Ordnance Survey Ireland here.

Detail from Ballyclogh townland (Ordnance Survey Ireland, 1829-1841)

We have previously seen the map below of Ballyclogh townland in relation to the Civil Parish of Knocknagaul, in the Barony of Pubblebrien. But I include it again for comparison to the Down Survey maps that follow.

Ballyclogh townland (orange border) in the Civil Parish of Knocknagaul (yellow border)
in the Barony of Pubblebrien (blue border).

Ballyclogh shows as B:cloghy on the maps from the Down Survey of 1656-1658

South of Ballyclogh is Smale County

Interestingly, to the south of Ballyclogh is the Barony of Small County (bordered in dark red above). This Barony can be seen on historical maps going back into the 1600s. When I first saw that Small County was spelt "SMALE", I wondered if what I was looking at was not an S but rather a curvy I, and in fact I was looking at IMALE County ... the territory of the Uí Maille (ee male-ee)? Is this how the Barony got its name, I wondered? It was the O'Malley's that gave it to the world!? But the Irish name for this Barony is Déis Bheag, which apparently was the name of a tribe and translates as "small county", according to Mac Spealáin. He further states that: The Earls of Desmond took control of this territory long ago and established what was essentially a small independent 'county'. ... but then again, there appears to be some doubt as to the derivation of the English name, so now I would like to propose it was in fact O'Malley County ... although it seems to be perhaps a little bit south of where I would imagine it to be ... and maybe this is simply delusions of grandeur on my part. Or maybe not?

Limerick O'Malley's in the Ancient Annals

The O'Malley name occurs in the genealogies of the Dál gCais. There is a single headline in Rawlinson B 502 as follows:
  • $1313] Máille m. Cadlai m. Aurthuile m. Echdach
This is one of 20 entries under the title CLANN DANO AILGILE IARUM which in turn is under the title DE GENELOGIA DÁL CHAIS UT INUENITUR IN PSALTERIO CAISSIL. As best I can guess (with my basic knowledge of Latin and severely limited knowledge of medieval Irish) the first title crudely translates as "the Clan then of Ailgile Beyond" or "the Clan then of Ailgile in the West"; and the second title translates as "Of the Genealogy of the Dal gCais as found in the Psalter/Book of Cashel". The latter was an early Irish manuscript, thought to have been produced under Brian Boru, and lost some time in the 1600s but quoted in many other historical texts (see Wikipedia entry here).

I would need some expert input here but as far as I can ascertain here is the genealogy of the individual known as Máille going back in time with approximate years of birth for his ancestors (based on the previous year of birth for Cas being 347 AD and allowing 30 years per generation) ... 

Line of Ascent of Máille (from Rawlinson B 502)

This suggests that the individual called Máille belonged to the Clan of Ailgel son of Tairdelbach who was in turn the 5x times great grandson of Cas, the founder of the Dal gCais. This would certainly be in keeping with the DNA signature of Group 2 (i.e. L226+).

If this Máille individual is the patriarch of the Limerick O'Malley's, then he should be genetically related to the various families or "people" that arose from his forbears and their descendants (i.e. his cousins). These can be extracted from the text of Rawlinson B 502 (and probably other sources yet to be explored) and subjected to critical analysis in due course. The closest related surnames may include the following (Anglicised versions will need to be sourced):
  • Muinter Duinechaid (Donohue?)
  • Úi Síthbe 
  • Úi Chon Cibel 
  • Úi Duib
  • Úi Fithbeláin 
  • Clann Scandláin
A translation of this genealogy by Twigge (1910) can be found in a series of article in the North Munster Archaeological Society's journal here.

Other sources (including the Great Book of Irish Genealogies by Duald Mac Firbis) remain to be consulted. [4] Once a list of associated surnames has been compiled from these ancient texts, we can explore if there is a potential genetic association between these surnames and the Limerick O'Malley's of Group 2.


There are at least 6 theories to explain the O'Malley presence in Limerick, but many assume a relatively recent arrival for the O'Malley's. The above review of available data indicates that this is clearly not the case. Documentary records identify individual O'Malley's going back to the early 1200s and historical texts indicate that there was a family (or sept) called O'Malley present in Limerick in the 12th century. Ancient genealogies suggest that this family / sept may have arisen from a descendant of Cas (347 AD) and is therefore Dalcassian in origin, a proposal supported by the O'Malley's of Group 2 testing positive for the Y-SNP marker L226.

The clan territory of the O'Malley sept may have been confined to Ballyclogh or could have extended across much of the Barony of Pubblebrien. This O'Malley land appears to have been first granted to the Bishop of Limerick by King Donald O'Brien (1194), then to the Citizens of Limerick by King John (1213), and then back to the Bishop of Limerick by King John (1216), then to John de St John, and eventually to the Arthur family (1600s).

So which theory is correct?

DNA tells us that the common ancestor for Group 2 is about 1750 (see previous post). From this we can surmise that the DNA signature of Group 2 has been associated with the O'Malley name for at least 250 years. But does this association extend back further in time, back to the time when the name would have originated? or was there a Surname or DNA Switch (SDS) somewhere along the way? We don't know at this point in time, but we can estimate the probability of an SDS to be in the region of 30% (see previous post).

In order to support Theory 5 (that the Group 2 O'Malley's have been in Limerick for about 1000 years), we would need to push the date of the association between the DNA and the surname back further in time. And the further back in time that we can push the association, the less likely are the earlier theories and the more likely are the later ones. But we must bear in mind that all of them may be correct to greater or lesser degrees.

And in order to push the association back, we need someone from an ancient branch of the Limerick O'Malley's to test their DNA, join Group 2 and upgrade to the Big Y test. But do any survive? or do the current Group 2 O'Malley's represent the totality of all surviving lines of descent? Have other lines of descent simply died out or daughtered out over the passage of time?

As we move forward into an unknown future, more people will test their DNA, and the mystery of the Limerick O'Malley origins may emerge from the dark night of the unrecorded past.

Maurice Gleeson
Sep 2019

Footnotes, Sources & Links

[1] Woulfe, Patrick. Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames, collected and edited with explanatory and historical notes (1923). ... available at

[2] MacLysaght, Edward. Several books but unfortunately not available online:
  • The Surnames of Ireland. 1957 (sixth edition 1991)
  • Irish Families. Their Names, Arms and Origins. 1957 (fourth edition 1985)
  • More Irish Families. 1970 (first paperback edition 1996, incorporating Supplement to Irish Families, 1964)

[3] O'Hart, John. Irish pedigrees; or, The origin and stem of the Irish nation (1892, 5th edition) ... available at

[4] There are several authors and scholars who are quoted in the above text and here is a brief summary of the main ones with links to biographical information:
  • Hodkinson, Brian - Curator, Limerick Museum (2012-2017)
  • MacLysaght, Edward - Chief Herald of Ireland (1943-1954), wrote three major books on Irish surnames.
  • Woulfe, Rev. Patrick - a Catholic priest from Limerick, who spent 25 years collecting information on Irish surnames and published his findings in his famous Surname Dictionary.
  • O'Hart, John (1824-1902) - ardent genealogist who published several books on Irish pedigrees.
  • Westropp, Thomas Johnson (1860-1922) - Irish antiquarian and archeologist. He abandoned a career in civil engineering to pursue his passion. Published many books and learned articles.
  • MacCaffrey, James (1875-1935) - Irish priest & theologian. Prof. of Ecclesiastical History and later President of Maynooth College.
  • Begley, John (1861-1941) – cleric & historian. Wrote three volumes on the history of Limerick from ancient times.
  • Lenihan, Maurice (1811-1895) - newspaper editor and Mayor of Limerick (1844), with a particular interest in the history of Limerick.
  • O'Donovan, John (1806-1861) - Irish language scholar, became Ireland's foremost place-name expert due to the work he undertook for Ordnance Survey of Ireland in the 1830s. Became professor of Celtic Languages at Queen's University, Belfast.
  • Ferrar, John (1743-c1810) - bookseller, printer, newspaper editor, and Limerick's first major historian.
  • Mac Firbis, Duald (1643-1671) - Irish scribe, translator, historian, and genealogist.

[5] Ferrar, John (1787). The History of Limerick. Watson & Co., Limerick ... Available at the AskAboutIreland website here.

[6] Begley, John. (1906) The diocese of Limerick: Ancient and Medieval. Dublin: Browne & Nolan
1906. Available at the AskAboutIreland website here.

[7] O'Donovan, John (1862). The Topographical Poems of John O'Dubhagain and Giolla-na-naomh O'Huidhrin. Printed by Alexander Thom, 87-88 Abbey St, Dublin. Available online from Google Books here.

[8] Westropp, T.J. (1916) The antiquities of Limerick and its neighbourhood. Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co. Available from the website here. Note that pages 81 and 140 are missing from this version but can be found in this alternative version on the AskAboutIreland website here.

[9] Westropp, Thomas Johnson (1907). The Ancient Castles of the County of Limerick in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature. Vol. 26 (1906/1907), pp. 143-200. Available at O'Malley references on pages 144 & 151.

[10] Barry, James Grene (1889). The Bourkes of Clanwilliam. The Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland. Fourth Series, Vol. 9, No. 80 (Jul. - Oct., 1889), pp. 192-203. Published by: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and available at
[11] MaCaffrey, James (1907). The Black Book of Limerick: studies on the Diocese of Limerick based principally upon the manuscript known as the Black Book of Limerick.

[12] Brenan, MJ. (1840) An Ecclesiastical history of Ireland from the introduction of Christianity into that country to the Year 1829. Avaliable from Google Books here.

[13] Lenihan, Maurice (1866). Limerick; its history and antiquities. Hodges, Smith & Co., Dublin. Available at

[14] Hodkinson, Brian (2007). A History and Archaeology of the Liberties of Limerick to c. 1650. NMAJ vol.47:p39-65. Available at the website here.

[15] A useful Irish-English dictionary ...

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Grace O'Malley and her DNA

One of the great aspects of Ireland’s heritage is the fact that we have the oldest genealogies in Europe. [1] These relate to the ancient Irish clans (septs) and their colourful chieftains, kings and queens.

Not all of these genealogies are 100% accurate – some times they were modified for political reasons or social climbing – but with the advent of genetic genealogy, the exciting possibility has emerged that the truth or otherwise of these ancient genealogies can be confirmed through Y-DNA testing. And a direct offshoot of this is the possibility to link your DNA with that of famous Irish medieval royalty, such as Brian Boru, or our very own Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen (1530-1603). The link to Brian Boru is well-established. But the question is: can we do something similar for Grace and the wider O'Malley clan?

Grace O’Malley meeting Queen Elizabeth I in 1593

Let's look at the case of Brian Boru and see what lessons it can teach us.

Identifying the DNA Signature of the Dal gCais

Brian Boru was first High King of Ireland and was famously killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.  The Ancient Annals are historical texts that recorded the genealogies of many Irish tribes/clans. They tell us that Brian Boru belonged to the clan of the Dal gCais (pronounced Doll Gosh) which was a tribe/sept that descended from a man called Cas (born 347 AD) whose 5x times great grandfather was Oilioll Olum, King of Munster (and therefore born about 150 AD). This sept rose to prominence in the south of Ireland and was centred around Clare, Limerick & northern Tipperary. As the clan evolved over time, it gave rise to many distinct branches each with their own surname. These Dalcassian surnames included: O'Brien, Casey, McGrath, Hogan, and many more. But they all had the same root - the clan of the Dal gCais. And therefore (if the Annals are true) they should all share a similar genetic signature.

Fast forward to 2006 and Ken Nordtvedt, an intrepid genetic genealogist, notices that a particular Y-DNA signature seems to be emerging for people with ancestry in southwest Ireland. Y-DNA is most informative for this research as (like the surname) it follows the direct male line. Another genetic genealogist, Dennis Wright, then decides to investigate this further. Dennis runs the R-L226 (Irish Type III) DNA Project and is co-administrator of the O’Brien DNA project. [2,3]

Dennis took the Irish Type III signature and searched the available databases for people with this Y-DNA signature. He identified 191 people with this signature and subjected them to further analysis. You can read his paper detailing the analysis here. [4] Most of the sample had Irish surnames, supporting an Irish origin for this particular genetic signature. Of those that had genealogical information available, most had MDKAs (Most Distant Known Ancestors) that had origins in the area around Clare, Tipperary & Limerick (the ancestral homeland of the Dal gCais).

He then assessed the ancient genealogy of the Dal gCais (from O’Hart’s version, which is readily available online) to identify modern-day surnames that supposedly arose from the Dal gCais (so-called Dalcassian surnames). [5] He then asked two very specific questions:
  1. what proportion of people with the DNA signature have Dalcassian surnames?
  2. what proportion of people with Dalcassian surnames have the signature?

Dalcassian surnames identified by Dennis & placed in a "family tree"

How many with the Signature have the Surname?
Dennis found that a significant proportion (29%) of the 191 men with the DNA signature had Dalcassian surnames. Conversely, 71% of the sample did not have Dalcassian surnames. A certain discordance is to be expected due to the occurrence of Surname or DNA Switches (SDS, aka NPEs) over the course of time. People often cite adoption & illegitimacy as obvious examples of how Y-DNA can be switched or become dis-associated with a particular surname, but there are many other causes including switching one’s surname to that of the Clan Chief as a sign of allegiance to him – a custom practiced throughout the time of the Irish clans. [6] Dennis cites a perfect example of another frequently overlooked cause. Morgan O’Brien married Eleanor Butler in 1690 and changed his surname to Butler, probably to ensure his and his wife’s right to inherit Butler lands near Bansha in Co. Tipperary. Thus any sons born to the couple would have carried the Butler name but O’Brien Y-DNA. [4]

How many with the Surname have the Signature?
Dennis also explored the potential association from the other way around – what proportion of people with the surname have the signature? He again searched the available databases to see what proportion of the surnames identified in his original sample (191) were associated with the DNA signature. Of 271 people with Dalcassian surnames, 57 had the signature (21%). And of 371 men with non-Dalcassian surnames, only 37 had the signature (10%). This difference (21% vs 10%) is statistically significant, further supporting the association of the specific DNA signature with the Dal gCais.

Subsequently, a direct male line descendant of Brian Boru took the Y-DNA test. He has a 30-generation pedigree that goes all the way back to Brian Boru. [7] The results came back revealing that he too shares the Irish Type III signature.

Dennis carried out this work in 2009, using only STR markers. Since then, the Irish Type III signature has become associated with a specific SNP marker (L226+) and a huge body of additional evidence has accumulated that bolsters the conclusions of the original study.

Brian Boru would have tested positive
for the SNP marker L226 (had he lived)

This was one of the earliest examples of how the Y-DNA signature of specific clans (and even specific leaders) could be determined through genetic genealogy. And the same basic methodology applies to any similar research being conducted today, and can equally be applied to help determine the Y-DNA signature of the O'Malley clan of Burrisk, Co. Mayo, which gave rise to Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen (1530-1603).

So to summarise the methodology developed by Dennis, the genetic signature of any specific clan can potentially be identified by demonstrating that:
1. Men who carry the specific Y-DNA signature have a higher frequency of MDKA origins in the ancestral clan territory (again, only men have Y-DNA, and this follows the direct male line along with the surname)
2. There is a significant preponderance of the specific DNA signature among men with clan-associated surnames
3. There is a significant surplus of clan-associated surnames bearing that specific DNA signature
4. People with an established genealogy going back to the specific clan also share the same specific Y-DNA signature

Identifying the DNA signature of the Mayo O'Malley's

Currently the O’Malley DNA Project has over 140 members and 70+ Y-DNA samples. [8] Of the 5 genetic groups within the O’Malley DNA Project, one has strong connections with Mayo, the ancestral county of Grace's clan. The Y-DNA signature of this group (Group 3) is therefore a prime candidate for the signature of the Mayo O'Malley clan. However, this group is subdivided into several subgroups - this complicates the analysis as any one of them could represent the signature of the clan. A further complication is the high risk of "chance matches" due to Convergence - a known issue with those people who sit on the M222 branch of the Tree of Mankind.

As a first step, we would need to clarify Grace's direct male line pedigree (back beyond the origins of the O'Malley clan) and put together a list of surnames supposedly associated with it over the passage of time (say, from about 200 AD onwards). This information can be gleaned from online sources, supplemented by data from The Great Book of Irish Genealogies (Leabhar Mór na nGenealach) by Duald Mac Firbis (written in 1650, published in 2004). [5,9]

The genealogy of the direct descendants of Grace is documented in the authoritative biography of Grace O'Malley by Anne Chambers, who runs the Grace O'Malley website. [10] Some lines of descent may extend to the present day. However, the Y-DNA in these situations would belong to Grace's husbands (Donal O'Flaherty & Richard Burke) ... and we could certainly try to identify this but it is not O'Malley Y-DNA. This is because Y-DNA is only passed from father to son ... and Grace (being a woman) would not have had a Y chromosome to pass on to her offspring. She would have passed on autosomal DNA to her children and this would have been chopped up, roughly halved, and passed on to the offspring of each subsequent generation up to the present day. As a result, modern day descendants of Grace would be approximately 11x times great grandchildren and would (on average) have inherited only about 0.05% of their DNA from Grace (less than 1 cM). This is essentially untraceable.

However, we have a genealogy for Grace O’Malley that includes a direct male line pedigree of descendants of her first cousin Thomas Roe O’Maille that extends to the present day. Testing male descendants on this direct male line will provide us with Y-DNA that should go all the way back to Grace’s father (if the genealogy is correct and barring any Surname or DNA Switch). And if that Y-DNA signature matches those of project members in one of the Mayo subgroups, then we have probably identified the DNA signature of the O’Malley’s of Mayo.

The analysis will also entail some extensive data gathering and will draw on public data in several Geographic & Haplogroup Projects (including the Ireland Y-DNA Project and the M222 Haplogroup Project). We may need to gather somewhere between 500 and 1000 Y-DNA signatures (to attempt to account for the problem of Convergence).

And thus anyone bearing this signature can claim to be a descendant of the O’Malley clan and a relative of Grace O’Malley.

Hopefully we can start this analysis later in the year. And hopefully it will work! We may only be able to get so far and then reach a roadblock. But it will be an interesting adventure nonetheless.

Watch this space!

Maurice Gleeson
Aug 2019

Sources & Links:

[1] Genealogy. by Kenneth Nicholls in The Heritage of Ireland. The Collins Press, 2000, pp156-161.

[2] R-L226 (Irish Type III) DNA Project …

[3] O’Brien DNA project …

[4] Dennis M Wright, 2009. A Set of Distinctive Marker Values defines a Y-STR Signature for Gaelic Dalcassian families. Journal of Genetic Genealogy, 5(1):1-7. Available at

[5] O’Hart (1892). Irish Pedigrees, or the Origin and Stem of the Irish nation. Available at …

[6] Goodbye NPE, Hello SDS - some causes of Surname or DNA Switches …

[7] Sir Conor O’Brien’s direct male line of ascent to Brian Boru …,_18th_Baron_Inchiquin

[8] O’Malley DNA Project …

[9] MacFhirbhisigh, Dubhaltach; Ó Muraíle, Nollaig, editor (2003–2004). Leabhar Genealach. The Great Book of Irish Genealogies. Dublin: DeBurca. (Alternate names by which it may be referenced include Leabhar Mor nGenealach, and Leabhar Mor na nGenealach). It is not available online, but nearest library copies can be found here.

[10] Chambers, Anne (2018). Grace O'Malley : The Biography of Ireland's Pirate Queen 1530-1603. Gill Books, Dublin. More info at

O'Malley Groups 1, 4, 5 & Ungrouped - update 2021

This is the last of the series of articles describing our Project Update 2021. Previous updates dealt with Group 2  (Limerick), the Group 3 ...